February marks Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM), a campaign to help raise awareness about teen dating violence, provide prevention education, and promote healthy relationships. To raise awareness about these issues Empower Yolo hosts a month-long awareness campaign in February through its youth programs.

Raising awareness about this issue and the need for prevention education is so important for our teens when 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men who experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner first experienced some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age, see loveisrespect.org, and 1 in 10 high school students has experienced physical violence from a dating partner in the past year; see loveisrespect.org.

Empower Yolo’s TDVAM activities are centered at two local high schools, Woodland High School (WHS), Davis High School, and at Emerson Junior High in Davis.

ASSETs – Empower Yolo runs a year-round After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens (ASSETs) program at WHS with students attending regularly.  Throughout the year, ASSETs provides unique opportunities for teens to develop life and leadership skills. Each February, the ASSETs team raises awareness about healthy relationships as part of its commitment to prevention education, inviting all 1,200 WHS students to TDVAM events.

The ASSETs team focuses on creating power through knowledge and normalizing teens having difficult conversations around relationships.  “It’s important to raise awareness about teen dating violence to educate teens about the potential warning signs,” says Daniela Talavera Rangel, Empower Yolo ASSETs Youth Programs Director, WHS.  “For many teens, this is a time when they are experiencing romantic relationships and learning how to build healthy relationships. Relationships during these years can set the stage for future relationships. By educating teens on what teen dating violence is, we can equip them with tools to prevent violence from happening and help them leave potentially violent/abusive relationships and how to look for help,” says Rangel.

In February, the ASSETs team will follow the LOVE IS NOT ABUSE curriculum and each week will discuss a different topic with teens, including: what is dating abuse and healthy relationships; the cycle of violence; dating violence and digital abuse; and ending teen dating abuse.  During TDVAM workshops students will hear excerpts from real people and their stories, engage in hands-on activities, and every student will have the opportunity to participate in an art contest for a chance to win a grand prize. The goal is to educate as many teens as possible and also offer a safe space for students to ask questions and talk about their experiences.

There can be long-term consequences for teens experiencing dating abuse. “Some issues that we have seen concerning teen dating violence are that youth who are victims of teen dating violence are at higher risk for victimization later on in their lives,” says Rangel.  “Additionally, with the influence of social media, relationship violence and being entangled in toxic cycles/relationships has been romanticized. Many teens do not fully comprehend the implications of an abusive and/or toxic relationship both for themselves and their partners,” adds Rangel. “This is why it is extremely important to educate our teens about healthy relationships,” said Rangel.

There are many services available to teens at Empower Yolo’s resource centers throughout the county. The ASSETs program has a social-emotional club called “Our Strength” where students at WHS can come by and engage in discourse about topics such as teen dating violence, anti-bullying, building healthy relationships, having healthy friendships, and more. This is a safe, open space for teens to learn and share their own experiences while relating to their peers. Additionally, teens can talk to a confidential peer counselor on Empower Yolo’s 24-hour hotline by calling 530-662-1133. Teens can also text ‘LOVEIS’ to 22522 or call the National Teen Dating Abuse Line at 1-866-331-9474 to speak to a confidential counselor.

Support teens that you know by having an open dialogue about these issues. “In many families and cultures, these kinds of topics are not discussed and they seem almost taboo. It can be uncomfortable to start these conversations, but opening the door to this kind of discourse can help teens open up,” says Rangel. “Having a trusted adult you can go to can make a big difference. Adults can also help by modeling healthy relationships like how to establish boundaries, have open communication, and deal with negative feelings with your partner,” said Rangel.

 Empower Youth- At Davis High School (DHS) and Emerson Junior High (Emerson) Empower Yolo supports the Empower Youth club with over 140 student members. Throughout the year, club members engage in community service for Empower Yolo’s domestic violence safe house, such as art and educational activities for child residents. In February, Empower Youth focuses on educating students on the school campus. The club has planned a TDVAM campaign to include: promoting Wear Orange Day on February 6, 2024, to raise awareness of teen dating abuse and send the message that abuse will not be tolerated; passing out TDVAM water bottle stickers and/or TDVAM information cards; promoting a crossover event with the Black Student Union (BSU) for Black History Month; coordinating with the DHS student newspaper to write an article on TDVAM; and creating and delivering Valentine’s Day cards/treats for safe house children.

February is also Black History Month, a celebration of African American history and culture.  Empower Youth members at DHS are excited to co host a joint event with BSU in recognition of Black History Month. “It’s important to celebrate black history month to acknowledge and celebrate all the important Black leaders who paved the way for us,” says Houston McCray, Empower Youth Diversity & Inclusion Officer, and Black Student Union President. The clubs plan to also raise awareness about teen dating violence in the Black community.  “We hope to bring awareness to teen dating violence in our community and create a great relationship with Empower Youth to do more things in the future for our community,” adds McCray.

Collaborative events like this strengthen the school community and bring more students together. “The partnership between Empower Youth and BSU is important because two different clubs are coming together to deliver an even stronger message raising awareness about teen dating violence in communities of color and the larger community, and promoting healthy relationships. Both clubs represent something important in our community and are led by young leaders of color,” says John Churchward, Empower Youth Community Service Coordinator, and BSU Member.

The event will view how Black and Multiracial teens are affected by dating violence.  In a study conducted over a 12-year period (1999-2011) among high school students across the U.S., dating violence among Black (12.9%) and Multiracial (12.2%) youth was significantly greater than among Hispanic (10.5%), White (8.0%), or Asian (8.0%) youth (Rothman & Xuan, 2014); see Teen Dating Fact Sheet in the Black Community, December 28, 2022; ujimacommunity.org.  “It’s important to raise awareness about dating violence for all teens, but to also consider racial and cultural issues within communities to better understand, support, and uplift Black and Multiracial youth and prevent dating violence,” says Isabel Churchward, Empower Youth Sophomore Class President.  African American youth are more likely than White or Latino teens to be hit, slapped, or hurt by the person they are dating (Kann et al., 2016); Teen Dating Fact Sheet in the Black Community, December 28, 2022. “Raising awareness about this issue is crucial because everyone deserves to be in a safe and healthy relationship, regardless of their race or ethnicity,” says Gizaw Baker, Empower Youth Co-Vice President, and BSU Member.

One of the goals of the event is to help provide resources for students. Black youth are less likely to seek support for TDV from formal sources such as school counselors due to concerns about confidentiality and a preference for seeking trusted sources of support such as friends and family (Love & Richards, 2013); Teen Dating Fact Sheet in the Black Community, December 28, 2022.  “One way to lower numbers of mistrust between school administrators and the Black students could be training the staff on how to handle certain situations, so when students come to them, they are equipped to handle it,” says Bekele Baker, Empower Youth Secretary.

The clubs will also highlight the intersection of race and gender and teen dating violence. Being both Black and female compounded the risk for TDV and produced specific negative outcomes in terms of societal perceptions and reporting options (Roberts, Tamene, & Orta, 2018); Teen Dating Fact Sheet in the Black Community, December 28, 2022.  “Young women of color need to be supported and respected just as much as other women, and it’s important that we acknowledge that and strive to raise awareness in communities of color and the larger community, provide mentorship, resources, and raise up teen women of color,” says Churchward.

Prevention education is essential for our teens as intimate partner violence (IPV) statistics become alarming for Black women.  According to the 2011 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, approximately 41% of Black women have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime compared to 31% of White women, 30% of Hispanic women, and 15% of Asian or Pacific Islander women (Breiding, 2014); see Intimate Partner Violence in the Black Community, December 28, 2022; ujimacommunity.org.

The use of firearms against women of color is also alarming. According to the CDC, Black and American Indian/Alaska Native women experienced the highest rates of homicide (4.4 and 4.3 per 100,000 population), and over half of all homicides (55%) were related to IPV. Firearms were used in about 54% of all female homicides. Compared to all other racial groups, Black women are most commonly killed by firearms; Intimate Partner Violence in the Black Community, December 28, 2022.

“It is important to continue to raise awareness about this issue because Empower Youth has been trying to spread a zero-tolerance policy against IPV. When you look at the statistics and see that Black women are experiencing this even more than other women, it becomes that much more important to try our best to stop this issue from starting in teen relationships because if it continues the statistics will only continue to rise so we need to try our best to prevent that now,” says Freija Lusardi, Empower Youth Diversity & Inclusion Officer.

The community can help support local teens by 1) donating to Empower Yolo’s prevention education program to help us reach more teens at empoweryolo.org; 2) wearing orange on Tuesday, February 6 in support of Wear Orange Day to raise awareness about teen dating abuse; take a selfie and tag Empower Yolo on Facebook @empoweryolo, Instagram and Twitter @empower_yolo; 3) becoming a sponsor for TDVAM next year to help us engage the community and reach more youths; 4) following ASSET’s month-long awareness campaign to show your support of TDVAM and healthy relationships. Follow their efforts on social media and join Empower Yolo’s email list at empoweryolo.org.  Thank you to Woodland Presbyterian Church for sponsoring TDVAM this year and supporting Empower Yolo’s prevention education programs.  We appreciate their continued support.

The ASSETs program and the collaboration between Empower Youth and BSU hold the promise of a brighter future by sharing a commitment to raising awareness and empowering the younger generation.

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